N.S. paralegal alleges law firm fired her over pregnancy, missed time

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Nova Scotia paralegal alleges law firm fired her over pregnancy
WATCH: Closing submissions and public proceedings are now completed at a board of inquiry reviewing a human rights complaint. A Nova Scotia woman alleges she was fired from a law firm due to her pregnancy. As Callum Smith reports, the chair of the inquiry will release a decision sometime in the new year – Dec 14, 2022

A Board of Inquiry in Nova Scotia is investigating a human rights complaint from a woman who says she was fired due to her pregnancy and the missed time that came with it.

Jennifer Doucet started working as a paralegal for Farrow Law, in Upper Tantallon, N.S., in June 2018. In January 2019, she informed her employer she was pregnant.

She testified at the inquiry in Halifax on Monday that she had more appointments than a typical pregnancy as she was high-risk due to being older than 35. She testified the baby “was measuring small, so that was the first red flag” in February.

Doucet often worked through the lunch hour to make up for appointments, a process which she says eventually stopped when she was told vacation time would be required.

Click to play video: 'Human rights hearing underway for Nova Scotia woman who lost pregnancy'
Human rights hearing underway for Nova Scotia woman who lost pregnancy

High-risk and pregnancy termination

She said she disclosed to her employer that there were concerns about the ultrasound. The baby was diagnosed with Edwards’ syndrome, also known as Trisomy 18, a life-threatening genetic condition. She was going to have a procedure to terminate her pregnancy.

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Then, Jacqueline Farrow, Doucet’s boss, suggested a break from work would be warranted.

“She proceeded to tell me that I should take a month off of work,” Doucet testified.

“Initially, I didn’t think I was going to need that much time,” she told Global News in an interview. “I thought I would be OK and I didn’t even know what the date was going to be for the procedure (to terminate the pregnancy).”

Jennifer Doucet, a former paralegal with Farrow Law, alleges she was fired due to her pregnancy and missed time. Callum Smith / Global News

Farrow told the inquiry Tuesday that Doucet had used all her vacation time and sick time, and the only other option was to take time off — and eventually be reimbursed by employment insurance (EI).

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“I could not afford to take a month off,” Doucet testified Monday, saying she was awaiting details of the procedure to terminate her pregnancy. That appointment was eventually scheduled for April 23.

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Farrow and Doucet agreed on her taking two weeks off beginning in mid-April, Farrow testified Tuesday.

But after Doucet underwent the procedure, she developed two infections. Farrow bumped Doucet’s return-to-work until May 6.

However, on May 5, the day before her return, Doucet emailed Farrow, saying she “felt mentally that I wasn’t prepared” because she was “still dealing with the loss of my baby.”

Doucet explained that she was going to make another doctor’s appointment to get her leave extended.

“I never had the time that I needed to process and mourn the loss of my baby,” she said in an interview.

But at the office, Farrow testified Tuesday that she was dealing with concerns raised by two lawyers who didn’t have Doucet to aid them in their work.

“There’s a professional obligation that we have to our clients and it was a concern to me,” Farrow said.

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Fired from position

On May 6, Doucet woke up to an email saying she was fired.

“I was shocked,” Doucet testified.

The lawyer for the commission, Kendrick Douglas, read an email aloud from Farrow to Doucet.

“Had you taken the month I had offered, I would’ve been able to bring someone in temporarily so we would not have been so shorthanded,” the email said. “I was waiting to hear from you last week regarding your medical condition.”

Doucet said she didn’t inform Farrow of everything she was going through “because some things are left confidential” but that she was updating her boss on her return-to-work timeframe.

The Board of Inquiry resumes Tuesday when two representatives from Farrow Law are expected to testify. Callum Smith / Global News

Farrow was aware of the pregnancy termination. But on two occasions, Doucet asked for an extension on her return to work the evening prior.

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“You did not give me any notice and now I am scrambling,” another email from Farrow, which was read aloud, said.

Employer testimony

On Tuesday, the inquiry heard from Farrow herself.

Farrow said it got to the point where Doucet was taking time off without authorization, and that she had used all her vacation time and sick time.

“I looked at the medical leave that she had had, which addressed the fact that she had to have a procedure to terminate her pregnancy, that she had suffered complications from that termination, and she had been given additional time off to address those issues,” Farrow said.

After being off for three weeks, Farrow reviewed all options, including bereavement leave, though at the time, pregnancy loss didn’t qualify for bereavement leave, she said.

She became emotional when she described having multiple miscarriages herself, and that she sympathized with Doucet.

But Farrow said Doucet had missed three weeks at that point, and the business was seeing ripple effects of her absence.

Doucet said her mental health wasn’t predictable and was “week by week.”

“Unfortunately, at the very last minute, I had to go to my doctor the day before I was supposed to return to work because that’s just how it went,” she testified.

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Other concerns raised

Two other issues were raised, including multiple times when Doucet didn’t get paid first thing in the morning on payday.

That had an impact on some of her bill payments so she voiced concern each time, which eventually began to frustrate Farrow because she never missed a payday.

“I had addressed it with her,” Farrow said. She told Doucet “[the money] will always be in your bank account on payday.”

The inquiry also heard Doucet had an ongoing issue with her working relationship with Morgan Hicks, another lawyer who has since become a partner at the firm. Hicks testified Tuesday that Doucet would often not complete the work she was assigned.

Doucet was also asked to remove a video she posted on her Facebook page involving her confronting someone who had left a child in a vehicle. Doucet was asked to delete it because Farrow was “a little shocked and a little distressed” over concerns that the video would reflect on the firm. She deleted the video after being asked.

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The third pay issue came to light three days after addressing the social media posting, Farrow testified.

“It was back-to-back issues that I was having with her,” Farrow said.

When asked, Farrow confirmed she was terminated due to ongoing issues and her inability to return to work after her medical leave.

Farrow said it was her understanding that Doucet’s medical issues were resolved because Doucet’s May 5 email made no mention “of any further medical issues that she was having.”

The inquiry

Farrow, who attended the hearing as a respondent along with her lawyer, Andrea MacNevin, declined an interview request made by Global News Monday.

The inquiry resumes Wednesday when Doucet will have the chance to cross-examine Farrow.

After that, closing submissions will be made either orally or via written statements, and the board chair will likely take some time before determining if the Human Rights Act was breached.

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